Are you ready for an out-of-hours crisis?


Published on May 31, 2018

There are 168 hours in a week but only 40 of those are classed as ‘business hours’ for the typical ‘nine to five’. For the remaining 128 hours your business is largely unstaffed. All things being equal, it follows that an incident is more likely to occur out-of-hours when you are likely to be least prepared – but do your plans take proper account of this?
For most brick-n-mortar businesses a crisis event occurring out-of-hours may afford the organisation a grace period to try and resolve the issue before the working day commences. This, however, is only true if they can deploy a timely and effective crisis response.
The challenge is intensified for businesses with a digital presence. In today’s digital world, most businesses do not have the luxury of flipping the sign on the door from ‘open ‘ to ‘closed’. Your management team may go home for the evening but your customers expect and require the ability to access your services whenever they choose. If something goes horribly wrong while the management is at home tucked up in bed then there will be little grace period, if any, before your customers will know about it.
I see many plans that assume the crisis management team (CMT) will be available almost instantly to take command and control of an incident, however, few of these plans have fully accounted for the practical considerations of mobilising a response once the working day has ended.
Here are few thoughts on how you may improve your out-of-hours response time:


1. Train your out-of-hours support services and duty managers on how to conduct an impact assessment and determine if the event is a crisis or one in the making (see point 2). Be sure to consider the different types of impact, whether they are financial, reputational, and regulatory or combination thereof.
2. Procedures should access both the actual impact and, more importantly, the ‘reasonably foreseeable impact’ in an attempt to stay one step ahead of the incident. Define clear escalation triggers/thresholds for when the CMT to be contacted.


3. Decide who is keeping the phone on. Discuss with your CMT whether one or multiple members will be formally ‘on-call/duty’. In a world where the boundaries of work time and personal time are becoming ever merged there are still some, and admirably I might add, who switch their work phones off at the end of the working day. This is maybe a healthy approach to work-life balance but if you are expecting to contact them without delay during a crisis then your plan has failed at one of the first hurdles.
4. Set clear expectation of what being ‘on-call/duty’ means. Even if your CMT members are to remain contactable there is no guarantee they will be ‘fit for duty’. For example, it only takes a few glasses of wine, a family caring commitment or being incommunicado on a long-haul plane ride to render them out of action when they are most needed.
5. Build redundancy into your CMT. As the US Navy Seals say – “Two is one and one is none”. This applies to equipment and assets as it does people. Your crisis management response should not be dependent on single individuals. For every position on the team, ensure that there is an assigned deputy that can step up if the primary is not available.


6. Decision making authority – it may sound obvious but ensure the CMT is empowered to manage the crisis. This may not be an issue if the CEO is leading the team but this is not always the case. Some organisations may choose to give the CMT Chair the delegated authority of the CEO whilst others may give the CMT as a whole that level of authority, so long as quorum is met. Either way the CMT should be able to swiftly discharge executive powers without hindrance during the crisis.
7. Spread the load with response ‘shifts’ and handovers – A crisis can place enormous stress on an individual. However experienced and well exercised a CMT member may be, he/she is not immune to stress and fatigue. I have seen many colleagues who have had on-call roles burn out from pressure and long hours. Whatever procedures you put in place, remember that responding to an out-of-hours crisis after a long day at work is not going to leave anyone in a fit state for what could be 18/20/22 hours without due rest.